Evolution of Learning Theory

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The Evolution of Accepted Learning Theories

Micheal Irwin

Professor Harrop

College 100

31 July 2010

Education has traditionally been seen as a pedagogic relationship between the teacher and the learner. It was always the teacher who decided what the learner needed to know, and indeed, how the knowledge and skills should be taught. In the past thirty years or so there has been quite a revolution in education through research into how people learn, and resulting from that, further work on how teaching could and should be provided. While andragogy (Knowles, 1970) provided many useful approaches for improving educational methodology, and indeed has been accepted almost universally, it still has connotations of a teacher-learner relationship. It may be argued that the rapid rate of change in society, and the so-called information explosion, suggest that we should now be looking at an educational approach where it is the learner himself who determines what and how learning should take place. Heutagogy, the study of self-determined learning, may be viewed as a natural progression from earlier educational methodologies - in particular from capability development - and may well provide the optimal approach to learning in the twenty-first century.

The distinction Knowles (1970) made between how adults and children learn was an important landmark in teaching and learning practices in vocational education and training, and in higher education. Andragogy, and the principles of adult learning that were derived from it transformed face-to-face teaching and provided a rationale for distance education based on the notion of self-directedness. There is, however, another revolution taking place in educational circles that appears to go one step beyond andragogy, to a new set of principles and practices that may have application across the whole spectrum of the education and learning lifespan.

This revolution recognizes the changed world in which we live. A world in which: information is readily and easily accessible; where change is so rapid that traditional methods of training and education are totally inadequate; discipline based knowledge is inappropriate to prepare for living in modern communities and workplaces; learning is increasingly aligned with what we do; modern organizational structures require flexible learning practices; and there is a need for immediacy of learning. In response to this environment there have emerged some innovative approaches that address the deficiencies of the pedagogical and andragogical methods.

The idea that, given the right environment, people can learn and be self-directed in the way learning is applied is not new and has been an important humanistic theme that can be followed through the philosopher Heider (Emery, 1974), phenomenology (Rogers, 1951), systems thinking (Emery and Trist, 1965), double loop and organizational learning (Argyris & Schon, 1996), androgogy (Knowles, 1984), learner managed learning (Graves, 1993; Long, 1990), action learning (Kemmis & McTaggart, 1998), Capability (Stephenson, 1992), and work-based learning (Gattegno, 1996; Hase, 1998).

The thrust that underscores these approaches is a desire to go beyond the simple acquisition of skills and knowledge as a learning experience. They emphasize a more holistic development in the learner of an independent capability (Stephenson, 1993), the capacity for questioning ones values and assumptions (Argyris & Schon, 1996), and the critical role of the system-environment interface (Emery & Trist, 1965).

Heutagogy is the study of self-determined learning and draws together some of the ideas presented by these various approaches to learning. It is also an attempt to challenge some ideas about teaching and learning that still prevail in teacher centered learning and the need for, as Bill Ford (1997) eloquently puts it 'knowledge sharing' rather than 'knowledge hoarding'. In this respect heutagogy looks to the...
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